Thursday, November 11, 2010

Balancing At The Edge

Recently I've been thinking about "the edge". Actually, that's not true. I'm ALWAYS thinking about the I can get to the next level, or obtain that certain something that's going to give me an advantage. It's a competitive trait of mine and yes, sometimes it's directly related to competition itself and wanting to win or be the best at something. But lately it's been more about how I can gain an edge in my overall health. See, it's not enough for me to be just "healthy". When I need to check the "how would you describe your health" box at the doctors office, I want to be able to check the box that says "GREAT health". When I turn 40, I want my doctors to look me in the eye and tell me that I'm going to live another 60 years because I'm in such great health. When I'm 60, I don't want my overnight bag to contain dozens of prescription bottles. I want to be illness free! When I'm 70, I want to be running the same trails I'm running on today at 36. I want to still be able to deadlift 200 lbs, do a pullup, and chase after my dog (who will be 350 years old by then). Certain that there MUST be some sort of secret food, secret workout, secret SOMETHING out there, I've been asking a lot of much older, very healthy adults about this. And you know what they all tell me? "You've got to take care of yourself when you're young". Bingo. What I do to and for my body NOW is going to affect my longevity, my ability to do the things I want to do at 40, 60, 70, 100 years old. What I do to my body can prevent degenerative disease and deterioration of brain function. The way I treat myself is CRUCIAL and of TOP PRIORITY.

My grandma and great aunt. Two of the most energetic, vibrant, sharp ladies I know...and yeah, can you believe it...they're in their 80's and 90's!

That's why the "I'll start TOMORROW", or the "one more slice of pizza won't kill me" or the "one more hour and then I'll go to sleep" or the "I'll go to the doctor NEXT week" or the "I've got my whole life ahead of me" excuses DO NOT FLY with me. And at the risk of sounding like a know-it-all or like I'm lecturing my audience, please understand---I am VERY guilty of throwing these excuses around at times. But the thing is, I am DESPERATE to get the most out of this life, however temporary it may be, and for me, that means I've got to take care of myself so that I can enjoy the things I want to do. I'm not too keen on the idea of regret and years from now, I'd really like to say I did it right and did it well.

I know A LOT of people...AMAZING, self-less, considerate, kind people who simply don't put their well being FIRST. They feel that taking care of others is the right thing to do. All the time. And it's admirable and I'm envious of their self-lessness. However, while these people do everything in their power to make sure others around them are happy, healthy and safe, these people are not taking care of themselves. Bottom line is, they are sacrificing their own health to help others. And sometimes, they are truly RISKING their own health. So I have to ask--in the long run (or the very near future in some cases) how are you going to be able to take care of anyone else if you can't take care of yourself? It's like the stuff we hear on the airplane before take-off: "secure your own oxygen mask before you secure any one else's". I know a LOT of mothers who would have a really hard time securing their own mask before their children's masks. I don't have kids. But I'll tell you, if I was sitting next to one of my nephews when the masks drop, I'd have a hard time too. However, it makes sense--who's going to take care of your kids if you aren't around to do it?

I also know a lot of people who take care of everything else in their life before their health. They are so wrapped up in work or projects or their house or whatever that they put their health on the back burner. Again, it's a matter of longevity and priority. How can you get your work done efficiently and well if you're trying to get it done on 2 hours of sleep, six cups of coffee, and some chips and salsa? And after days and days and weeks and weeks of this WILL catch up to you. Do this over and over again, it adds up to YEARS of life that you can't get back. And for what? At the cost of what? YOU? Sure, you might make more money NOW. You might feel really great about making those sacrifices now, but how will you enjoy the fruit of your sacrifices if you are sick. Or dead.

Oh yeah...I'm lecturing. (and being kind of dramatic) Sorry. But not really. Because I really just have too many people in my life, too many loved ones who aren't taking care of themselves!!!!!! And I can't stand to think of a world in the near future without them! I watch them negotiate with themselves and tell themselves that they'll take time for themselves "soon" or "later". They say to themselves, "let me just get through this. take care of THIS. and THEN I'll work on myself". NO!!!! NOW is the time people!

So, I've discovered that this is very much easier said than done, this taking care of yourself first. It's truly another balancing act in our lives, because we really DO have a lot to do and a lot to take care of. Work is important, our kids and our loved ones are EXTREMELY important. So putting ourselves first takes a lot of rearranging and creative planning. It might be, at first, about carving a very small window in our day to cook a healthy meal, take a short run, meditate, pray, write in a journal, take a nap...whatever it is we need to do for ourselves that we've put on the back burner too long. It's imperative, though, that we find a way to do this for ourselves. It's crucial to our health---our bodies, our emotional health, our day to day function.

I am not the expert on this topic. But I'm fortunate that my job and my life is centered on searching for ways to create a balance in life for optimal health. And then I get to tell YOU all about what I've learned and experienced on the topic. So, I'll be honest...for me, lately, I've discovered that I really haven't been taking enough time to truly take care of myself. Work has been extremely busy and I've put myself on the back burner in an effort to take care of my gymnasts who are in competition season. Their mental and physical well being have been my priority for weeks now and MINE has NOT. And as a result...I am not feeling my usual energetic, motivated, strong, efficient self. It's caught up to me and I'm not happy with the results. And because I'm not happy with myself and not feeling my best...guess what? I'm thinking it's probably going to rub off on my gymnasts--the very same girls I've been focused on all these weeks. How am I going to be efficient in my coaching and motivate my young athletes, if I'm falling apart? Hmmmm.

Time to take a step back and take a look at what I need to do to get that balance back.

How about you?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What the HECK????

Okay...those of you who know me, know that I am like a spongy vulture when it comes to gathering information on health, fitness, and training. I am constantly reading, studying, observing, and experimenting. I want to know how to be the healthiest I can possibly be. I want to reach my highest potential as an athlete. And then I want to spread the word and teach others about it!

So, I've been working on my certifications for sports conditioning, personal training, and performance nutrition. I'll admit, it's tedious and sometimes boring to be on a self-study program. I'd much rather be in a classroom or hands-on training, but right now, with my work schedule...this is how I'm rolling. I'm learning a lot. I like what I'm learning. But honestly, I feel like I'm learning MORE from my own experiences and research.

If you've been reading my blog diligently (which I know you are!), then you know about my recent obsession and love affair with Crossfit--the very sport I used to raise a skeptical eyebrow at. Crossfit continues to surprise me and prove me wrong. Constantly. Now, some of the relative strength, metabolic conditioning work is stuff I had introduced to my training regimen years ago. The addition of olympic weightlifting COMBINED with the metabolic conditioning into a short, intense, sweet WOD (workout of the day) is a pretty new concept to me. As an endurance athlete (triathlon and ultrarunning) I have spent HOURS AND HOURS training for my sport. And up until my achilles injury (and introduction to Crossfit) I was logging up to 20-30 hours on the trails a week in preparation for a big ultra race. I did some conditioning work in the gym every other day, but I could barely fit it in with the amount of running I was doing. This is how I trained. Sport specific. It made sense to me to train long, long hours on the trails because that's what I'd be doing the day of the race---long, long hours on the trails. Right?

So imagine my surprise when I started Crossfit and WODs and was cutting my training time from 20-25 hours a week to 6 or 7 and was getting my ASS KICKED! (I haven't vomited after a workout in a long, long time (can't count sour stomach on long runs since that's par for the course) ). The intensity of these 10-30 min WODs is so fierce and pushes me to a point that my body is constantly adjusting, changing, and building itself into something incredibly strong, fast, and functional. At first I'd leave a workout wondering if I should head out for a run, in case I didn't get enough out of that 10-30 minutes. I actually felt a little guilty. But the true test of the efficiency of my new workouts was tested recently when I got the green light from my doctors to start running again. I was TERRIFIED I wouldn't have the endurance or stamina to complete a run. I was worried about my achilles and worried I'd be so out of "running shape" that I DREADED that first run. Again, I was surprised. No...shocked! Crossfit had managed, in those 10-30 min WODs, five to six days a week, to not only maintain my endurance, but BETTER my speed and running efficiency! How is that possible?????

Well...the best answer to that question is here:
But it's a very lengthy read that most people don't have time for. So I'm going to try and lay it out quickly and easily (note: most of this information is found on the website, crossfit endurance website and some in my textbooks, workbooks, and fitness journals ):

Crossfit is NOT a specialized fitness program. It's a "deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains": Cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Crossfit was developed to enhance an individual's competency at ALL physical tasks. And Crossfit athletes are trained to perform successfully at multiple, diverse, and randomized physical challenges at short, middle and long distances. Crossfit achieves this through functional movement and high intensity anaerobic training. Okay, I'm probably going to piss off a lot of my fellow trail and ultrarunning friends here....BUT there is a big misconception that long distance athletes are fitter than short distance athletes. Here's the thing though: endurance athletes have typically trained themselves LONG past any cardiovascular benefit and have actually LOST strength, speed, power, agility, balance and flexibility. Their athletic competency has been compromised. It is SCIENTIFIC fact that aerobic activity DECREASES anaerobic capacity, decreases strength, speed and power. (How many ultrarunners out there can jump up to a 24" box, or do a dead-hang pullup, or squat to parallel without hurting their hamstrings or backs? ) On the other hand, anaerobic activity BENEFITS cardiovascular function, decreases body fat, and is the ONLY way to dramatically improve power, speed, strength and muscle. And what's even BETTER---anaerobic conditioning will not adversely affect aerobic capacity! This explains why I am still able to run WELL (and even better) after adhering solely to Crossfit and anaerobic training during my recovery. Now I don't know about YOU, but I'd much rather look like THIS:

Than THIS:

Who looks stronger to you?

Crossfit has found an incredible balance in achieving athletic potential. Thousands of elite athletes have some pretty awesome testimonials on the website of how their performance has changed because of Crossfit's regimen.

Okay. Great. Interesting stuff, right? BUT, I'm ready to start training again for another ultra. In fact, I plan on running a R2R2R (South Rim to North Rim to South Rim) in the Grand Canyon in April. How the heck will I be able to run THAT without training for hours on the trail? And how can I continue to do Crossfit 5 to6 days a week AND run?

Well...I've been talking to a lot of coaches, a lot of endurance athletes, a lot of fitness specialists and have been introduced to Crossfit Endurance. Check this out! They claim that if I follow their program, I'm only required to train 6-8 hours per week to COMPETE at an ultra distance! WHAT???? They claim that limiting an athlete's exposure to LSD (long slow distance) training will allow them to remain not only functionally competent in other areas of fitness and competitive in aerobic endurance pursuits but DOMINATE in ALL areas of fitness! That's a HUGE claim! So let me get this right...I train hard 6-8 hours a week and not only will I be able to run 45 miles in the Grand Canyon, I'll also be able to kick ass on the soccer field, AND maybe even throw a football farther than my brother after Thanksgiving dinner this year? Good grief--makes me wonder...what ELSE could I do?

So here's my training plan: I'll be continuing with the Crossfit WODs and add the Crossfit Endurance WOD specific to MY sport and distance (running) every day. The regimen will also include the occasional tempo or time trial on my "off days". Still--this balance will NOT push me past 8 hours of training a week. And the WODs are FUN! Yesterday, for instance, I did a clean and jerk, pullups, squat, sit ups AMRAP (As many rounds as possible) in 8 minutes and then 3+hours later did a Tabata run where I did 20 seconds on/10 second off for 8 rounds on an incline. Both workouts only took me about 30 minutes each (when you include some warmup and stretching time too). ! Sounds too easy? Well...let's just say, I had to hang out near the bushes for a while after the second workout. It's all about INTENSITY. goes! Looks like I'm off on another crazy adventure! But, I'll admit, I'm still skeptical. I realize that most successful ultrarunners are still running hours upon hours on the trails and most AREN'T doing Crossfit Endurance. But then again, I don't think enough ultrarunners have experimented with Crossfit or Crossfit Endurance. The idea is CRAZY! But what if this works? What if I actually run better and do WELL in my Grand Canyon run. Holy cow!...this will seriously change everything! I mean DAMN! What am I going to do with all this FREE time? Ha ha! Can't wait to find out! Stay tuned..

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ready, Set, GO!

Gutsy Girl's Adventures is about to take on a WHOLE new meaning in the next few months! Having now officially recovered from my achilles injury...the time has COME! One new adventure for this Gutsy Girl EVERY SINGLE MONTH! No matter how big or small, my goal is to try something new, something that challenges me to get out of my comfort zone and hopefully teaches me a little (or a LOT ) about myself and what I'm capable of. (And for your amusement and reading pleasure, I'll be chronicling these adventures through pictures and video and lots and lots of stories here on the Gutsy Girl's Adventure blog!)

And SO...

Yesterday, a guy around my age came into the gym to inquire about our adult gymnastics classes. We got to talking and it turned out he was also a CrossFit trainer and competitive runner. So we had a lengthy conversation about our favorite crossfit WOD's, different trail races we'd completed, and how we can't understand why all runners aren't barefoot training regularly. (More on this another time) I told him about my blog and how I'm on a major quest to find the ultimate adventure.

His eyes lit up. "I'm a competitive skydiver!"

What? Did he say COMPETITIVE skydiver? (Mouth hanging open)


Honestly, I had no idea such a sport existed. I mean, sure, I had seen videos of what I assumed was just stunt "art"--synchronized swimming in the air, right? But the second this guy added "competitive" to the already tantalizing thought of jumping out of an airplane--well, THAT takes on a while new meaning of extreme adventure to me!

Now, mind you...I haven't even skydived ONCE. Yet. But's it's on my short list and definitely something I want to do as one of my first new "adventures". The expense has been my biggest obstacle, but guess what! My new friend said he can get me a good deal on my first jump! Said he'd even do the jump WITH me, as my tandem partner. And who knows? Maybe I'll love it so much I'll be inclined to try this:
By the way....I should mention that my new friend is one of the skydivers in this video. Pretty awesome, right?

Overcoming Adversity

This was me last month. Determined to overcome an injury and set an example to the young athletes I coach, I dug deep after a torn achilles tendon prevented me from achieving
some goals I had set for the summer and decided to hone in on a little piece of wisdom I received from my father many, many years before.

You see, as tenacious as I like to be when approaching various athletic endeavors, I used to have a very difficult time dealing with the adversity that comes with recovery from injuries and other set backs.

One particular event would shape the way I viewed adversity forever. I was 24 years old, just barely out of college and hoping to make the very difficult transition from amateur triathlete to endorsed professional. At 24, I was very, very young to try to make triathlon my full-time job,
but I had come off of a very successful couple of amateur seasons and it was suggested to me that if I could convince people I was serious and committed enough to do it...I might get some lucrative deals and endorsements to make it worth my while. After lots and lots of trying to sell myself as the newest up and coming triathlete, I ended up with ONE deal. Quintana Roo gave me a "trial" run by creating an aerodynamic, super-sleek, decked out bike for me to train with and demo at the USAT National Championships that year. If I did well, I got to keep the bike and win a sweet two-year endorsement deal. I took that bike with PRIDE, determined to win over Quintana Roo (and anyone else hanging around the finish line at Nationals that year). The bike was was like riding on melted butter with the super light aluminum frame, disc wheels, and aerobars. Oh yeah, I got pretty darn cocky on that bike! One day, six weeks before Nationals, I was riding with my training group before daylight and was hit by a car from behind. Hard. I was thrown several yards and briefly lost consciousness. I suffered a concussion, a broken arm, and lots of road rash. My helmet, (that the doctors said saved my life), was shattered. My coveted Quintana bike? Totaled. There would be no Nationals that year, no endorsement deal, no professional career. The road to recovery would test everything in me. Because six months after my accident, I was experiencing blackouts and minor seizures and it would take another six months after that...a full year to get the diagnosis and treatment. It turned out I had Grave's Disease--an auto immune disease that effects thyroid function, elevates heart rate, and causes weight loss, hair loss...and brain "fog". I was lucky. Gail Devers, olympic sprinter and champion almost DIED from the disease because it wasn't caught in time. And yet, she STILL managed to overcome the disease and went on to win gold SEVERAL times after her diagnosis!

Check out this article about Gail Dever's struggle and triumph:

At twenty-four years old however, I hadn't yet found the tools to barrel through this kind of set back with the kind of attitude that I needed to triumph in the end. One day, as I sat in front of the boob tube, pouting over my situation, my dad came into the room, looked at my pathetic self sitting like a slug and said this:

"The way I see it, you could either wallow in your own misery, OR you could do everything and anything to get better FASTER. You could treat your recovery as the TRAINING period for a race. Only this time the "race" is getting back your health. Train hard. Go above and beyond and defy the odds. Be the BEST patient the doctors have ever seen."

I only had to think about this for a second before deciding that YES...this is what I wanted for myself. To get my health back, and FAST. I wanted to set my sights again on that ultimate Nationals on that fabulous bike.

It was hard. I had lots and lots of setbacks in my recovery. But, like my idol Gail Devers, I triumphed in the end and overcame Grave's Disease. And I learned just how tough I could really be. I learned how imperative it was for me to treat the illness, the injuries and the adversity as a learning tool rather than a hindrance to obtaining my goals.

Now...I must confess. I never raced triathlon again. In fact, I never even got back on a competitive road bike SINCE that accident. One day, about a year after I had fully recovered, I attempted to take a leisurely bike ride on my dad's old ten speed. About a mile into the ride, I freaked out. I let the bike get out of control and hit a rock in the road, which sent me flying over the handlebars. Again. And helmet saved me. I suffered no major injury. But my ego was severely bruised.

After that incident, I didn't get back on a bike again for a LONG time. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I started dabbling with mountain biking. For some reason, flying down a mountain trail was a lot less scary to me. But I guess it makes sense...I had been HIT by a car on the ROAD. There was no chance of that happening again in the mountains, right?

I've been asked many, many times by fellow triathletes, why I stopped triathlon. And when I hear them talk about their training and racing, I feel sad. I throw a little pity party in my head and feel sorry for myself and what I've "been through". But I don't admit why I don't race anymore. I'm embarrassed. I'm not proud.

So, here's the thing... if I'm going to be a Gutsy Girl, if I'm going to talk about overcoming adversity, if I'm going to be a role model and an example of the kind of confident,
risk-taking, balanced, healthy person I want be...then I'm going to have to listen to my own advice. Fear is real. I acknowledge the fear I have. But I'm not one who wants to live with regret or hold back from trying new, amazing adventures because of my fear. To me, it's not a reason, nor an excuse. Fear can be extremely immobilizing, and I don't want that for myself. So... I've officially added the Vineman Triathlon to my "Can Do" Adventure list. I've taken steps to purchase a road bike from a friend and the next time my triathlete friends ask me to come out on a ride...I'll be ready. A little hesitant maybe. But READY!

Adversity comes in many forms. Physical, mental, situational. We will ALL experience adversity at some point in our lives and we will ALL have a choice in how we deal with it.

Here's a story that demonstrates an inspiring choice:

In 2006, Andrew Donnellan, a sixteen-year old elite gymnast walked out onto the floor and performed a routine, basic, single front flip. It was a move he'd done thousands of times. But that particular day, he over rotated the flip and fell to his head on the floor. In that single moment, he fractured two vertebrae and damaged his spinal chord. That single moment would paralyze Andrew. For three months, Andrew would rehabilitate at the world-renowned Craig Hospital in Colorado. When he entered Craig, the only thing he could do independently was breathe. He couldn't feed himself, he had to blow into a straw to move his wheelchair. But Andrew is a fighter and knew that self-pity would set him back from the possibilities of recovery and the things he wanted for himself...despite the hurdles he'd face. By the time Andrew left Craig Hospital, he had gained some muscle movement in his right bicep. And from there, the triumphs would continue. He graduated with his high school class. He was accepted at the University of Arizona and lives on campus. He can sit upright in his wheelchair, unassisted. He plays on the wheelchair basketball team. He's taking driving lessons. He wants to be a film producer and travel. He is amazing and I'm proud to know him. He inspires me and reminds me of the power of perseverance and strong will. True, adversity is relative. But WOW...puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

For more on Andrew's story:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FOOD....simple? (just stick with me on this one...)

This is a touchy subject. A sensitive subject. I mean...our relationship with food can be extremely tricky. A love-hate relationship. And why? Because so much of our time revolves around food.

I hate that. I once tried to avoid food altogether. That ended badly, for obvious reasons. I've been a vegetarian six times, the longest bout lasted almost 2 years. I was a vegan for about 3 months. I was a pescatarian (fish) for 6 years. But fad diets? I'll be honest...I've always loathed the idea of limits. I LIKE food. I like trying new foods and experimenting with recipes. So when the Atkins diet became the new "thing", I stood by and watched my boss turn her entire world upside down to accomodate this new way of "life". It was all about what she could or couldn't eat. It was about ordering
a steak from Outback Steakhouse three times a week and glaring at me from across the room as I enjoyed an apple. She was nasty and moody and conversation was all about food. I was going crazy. And it was EVERYWHERE! While in line at Costco, amidst stacks and stacks of pork rinds at the register, this conversation was taking place all around me... "Oh, you're doing Atkins? Me too! "( while chomping down on a giant stick of beef jerky). "How much have YOU lost?" It was a secret club, of sorts... and everyone was in. Except me. But I was just fine with that. Because I had a "secret" too. It was a little thing called BALANCE. Yep.

This is what I knew when I was five-years when I'm hungry, stop eating when I'm full, at least try new foods, and it's important to drink milk, eat lots of vegetables, and play hard because I want to grow up healthy and strong. Ironically, my family owned a restaurant in my early years..a PIZZA joint, no less! Funny---we didn't eat a lot of pizza. Most meals were made at home. Homemade, wholesome ingredients with whole foods. We rarely ate out, despite the restaurant, and my parents did not keep sugar cereal, soda, chips, sweets, or processed foods at our house. (THANK YOU, Mom and Dad!)

The simple concept of food that I knew at five is what I've carried with me through my adult years. I'll admit, I struggled, sometimes a LOT with food, mostly in my teen years and in college when I found it extremely difficult to balance the foods I knew I needed to eat to maintain and fuel my body as an athlete and the introduction to a lot of BAD food I hadn't experienced at home. Food that was hard to avoid a the student union, the dorms, the mall, the parties.

I was fortunate. And again, as in previous posts--I need to acknowledge how GRATEFUL I am. I watched a lot of my friends continue struggle with overeating, bulimia, and anorexia far into their twenties and thirties. I saw how miserable they were and they way their young bodies were falling apart. I knew, that in order to continue to be an athlete, my body could not perform the way it needed to if I didn't eat the way I had as a kid. And not only would it affect my athletic performance, but most of the balance in my life --work, studies, relationships, mood, sleep. Yeah, the kind of stuff I needed to SURVIVE!

The concept is so simple, it's almost ridiculous. Fully engaged in the concept, I don't even think about it. It's easy, it's second nature. I pick the foods that are best for keeping the balance in my body, eat them consistently, and the results speak for themselves.

But here's why it gets complicated: Because I'm the kind of person who likes to educate myself on nutrition, I pay attention. Well, let's face it, it's kind of hard to avoid. It's in our face. It's in the media. It's in our grocery stores. It takes up two sections at Barnes and Noble! We are overwhelmed with choices and it's daunting. Atkins Diet, Zone Diet, South Beach Diet, Hollywood Diet, Cabbage Soup Diet, Metabolism Diet ADHD Diet, 321 Baby Bulge Be Gone Diet, Biggest Loser Diet, Chocolate Diet, Jenny Craig
Nutrisystem, Oprah Diet, Hormone "Fad Diet" and you'll get a list of over 300! By the way, I want to make clear that I very much understand that food is an UGLY thing for some people. I get that a LOT of people didn't grow up with the concepts of food that I did. The struggle with food is REAL and I acknowledge and appreciate how difficult it is for so many of us. The structure of a diet, counting calories, etc....sometimes it's absolutely necessary, especially for those of us struggling with portion control in this BIGGER world we live in. We are confused. The FDA tells us one thing, the restaurant tells us another. This book says this, but our body says something else. Our trainer tells us we need to do this, but we're not so sure.... No wonder we're fed up! No wonder we're getting FATTER and SICKER! It's complicated and overwhelming. And meantime, another 30 fad diets will emerge by next week...

When I hear about the "latest and greatest", I basically do two things. Any diet that completely eliminates good, whole
foods like vegetables or protein, I don't even give a second look. But the others...I'll take a look. I'll read up and find out why it might have some relevance to good health. Sometimes there are very good arguments.

And this is why my simple, balanced, easy system is constantly challenged. My only advantage is the time I've spent educating myself and learning more and more about what's right and wrong for my body. And I really hope that more and more people take the time to do the same...make it a priority to understand how food effects their bodies. Here's what I know. My system works for me. I don't adhere to any one particular "diet",( though some might say that my diet can be described with the scientific term "low glycemic" or that I eat mostly "Paleo" (a word I will talk MUCH more about in future posts) ). The truth is, I believe in my HEALTH. The balance in my life is real. I eat when I'm hungry, I eat enough to fuel this balance and perform at my best. I eat the foods that will make me stronger, faster, more alert, more energetic and healthier. And yes, I eat a cookie occasionally. I drink a glass of wine sometimes. I like coffee. I enjoy a hearty italian dinner every once in a while. And I also understand that when I enjoy these things, I need to enjoy them in moderation. If one of those things were to trigger a binge, I'd need to eliminate them from my diet completely in order to avoid upsetting the balance.

Now...this is a topic I will revisit MANY times on this blog. Because it's important to me. Yes, I've eliminated many of the scientific "terms" used to describe some of what I'm talking about. (Glycemic index, metabolic rate, organic, etc) because again, it gets COMPLICATED! I like to make overly complex things simple. And I truly believe that so many of us are frustrated and disillusioned by what we read because it's so foreign to us and too difficult to wrap our busy brains around!

Meantime, I'd like to share a very simple, easy, nutritious, and DELICIOUS recipe I made yesterday: PUMPKIN TURKEY CHILI (can we say...FIBER!!!)
1 tbsp oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
15 oz. diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green chiles
2 cups organic pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp ground pepper
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup kidney beans

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat, saute onion, green bell peppers, yellow bell pepper, and garlic until tender. Stir in turkey and cook until evenly brown. Drain. Mix in tomatoes, green chili, pumpkin, kidney beans. Season with chili powder, cumin, pepper, cinnamon. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes.

Again, I must emphasize...I'm no expert. But here's what I'm saying: I truly believe that food can be SIMPLE. And in my food adventures (yes, I also believe food is extremely adventurous!) I'm hoping to continue to find out HOW...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Survival of the most FUNCTIONAL?

Functional. The dictionary defines this as "of or having a special purpose or action", "capable of operating". These days, however, it seems to be a word that's tossed around and taken on many ,sometimes conflicting definitions . Everything, we are told, in order to make life easier, more "live-able", needs to be "functional"-- our schedules, our computers, our phones, our cars, our money , our homes, our food. We have contraptions and gadgets galore to accommodate our increasingly hectic lives and needs. And every day, the newer, quicker, better model appears. Sure, you might have to empty your bank account to keep up with these replacements, but who cares, right? If it's newer, quicker and BETTER, it's definitely what we NEED to merely SURVIVE in this complex, fast-paced world.

But what about our bodies? Fitness professionals have for several years now been using the word "functional" to describe a specific type of exercise and regimen that advertises optimal levels of fitness. Hmmmm...interesting. I was curious. And so, I took a good, long look at what this actually entails and even went so far as to experiment with several of these "functional" fitness programs. What I found, ironically, is that fitness too has often become a costly piece of this "functional" puzzle. The programs tended to include the purchase of the newest, quickest, best gadgets, dvds, and costly equipment that claimed to deliver the ultimate exercise and best looking bodies. Fast. So...if you buy the ab roller, the perfect pushup system, the P90X dvds, the shoes, the compression shorts AND the high end vitamin supplements, detox juices and energy bars and gels, you'll achieve perfect, functional fitness? Sounds suspiciously just like the rest of our lives---gotta keep up with the latest and greatest.

Okay, I'll admit I've used some of these crazy gadgets and systems in my training. I like kettlebells, jump ropes, and medicine balls and use them regularly in my exercise regimen. And I think a lot of the sports and workouts that use them definitely have a good, solid foundation in developing successful levels of fitness. But I can't help but is it that after all these fancy contraptions, equipment, and programs, we're STILL fighting extraordinary rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease ? How are we NOT healthier?

Well, think about THIS... the moment we became sedentary in our work AND play, was the moment we had to invent gadgets to make it easier to take care of our bodies. Flash back to our hunting and gathering ancestors who spent hours upon days upon weeks devoted to moving their bodies---running, jumping, catching, SURVIVE. Pre-TV, pre-motor vehicles, pre-phones, pre-processed, scientifically engineered food, pre-rubberized, gore-tex, specialized shoes, pre-treadmills, pre-wii sports, battery operated, computer animated exercise world. Today, we are dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into our health. And we're getting FATTER. Our hospital bills are growing larger. We're DYING. We're NOT surviving at all!

I've been thinking a lot about my own survival and I'm pretty sure a treadmill or an ipod or a pair of fancy running shoes won't save me in a crucial moment of life or death. So...Do I have what it takes to survive a major disaster? Could I defend myself in a moment of danger?

To me, this is what "functional" fitness really means. Moving my body in a way that achieves the natural strength, energy and endurance I need to survive anything from walking down icy steps in winter to climbing up and over a wall or fence if I were being chased by a predator. It also means I can defend myself against illness, injury, and the little, every-day battles we endure just by living. Now I'm not saying there's not a place in my life for a yoga mat or a pullup bar or a medicine ball. But what I AM saying is that these things aren't the TOTAL package for my ultimate survival kit.
So I'm conducting a little experiment. A few days a week, I've been taking a minimalist approach to my fitness regimen and rather than dumping more and more money into equipment and gadgets, I've been using what I already have---my body. My ENTIRE body. As is. No fancy stuff. Just me and the ultimate playground--nature! Climbing trees, sprinting up mountains, jumping off rocks, crawling, swimming, rolling, bounding, flipping, running, pulling, pushing---the way my body is MEANT to move. Functional. The way our ancestors moved every survive. This hasn't changed! Our bodies are STILL designed for this! We are not meant to be motionless or sit in front of computers and video games and TVs. Moving is BASIC, and EASY and requires no gym membership or special device or website to tell us how. You don't need special clothes, or shoes or energy shots or music to make movement happen. What would happen if we actually LISTENED to our bodies instead of our ipods? Or if we PAID ATTENTION to our heart rate instead of strapping on an expensive monitor that tell us what's going on in our bodies?

Maybe it's just because I'm a kid at heart and want my body to respond the way it did when I was young. But truly---I think it's completely possible. And so does Erwan Le Corre. He's become a bit of a hero to me. Check out his video below. This guy is truly AMAZING and I'm completely mesmerized by the way he moves and how fluid and natural it is! Inspirational. And I'm pretty sure this guy can survive anything!

This is NOT a new concept, by the way. But wouldn't it be interesting if fitness took a turn--BACK to this natural movement approach? I, for one, sure wouldn't mind!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Are You Waiting For?

Something happens to girls when they hit their "tween" years. It's a painfully dramatic switch that seems to occur at that crucial moment they turn ten, eleven, twelve years old. After years and years of working with young female athletes, you'd think I'd be ready for it and yet it still never fails to shock day they are nine and telling me they're going to rule the world and the next, they are ten and telling me they "CAN'T".

Last year, I started paying more attention to this phenomenon. I was coaching a large handful of girls all turning twelve and thirteen that same year. They were upper level gymnasts and all had been competing and training at my gym with me for several years. They were energetic, confident, smart, talented little girls who bounded into the gym every afternoon-- eager to train, eager to work, and eager to see what they could accomplish. They were polite, supportive of one another, respectful of me and my coaching, and the vibe in the gym---positive! Then, one day, it happened. One of them showed up wearing dark, black, thick eyeliner. The next day, another showed up with her hair falling carelessly over her eyes. And then, seemingly overnight, the conversation went from how quickly they could finish their workout and move on to elite skills to the boy that texted something to someone and now they don't like so and so because so and so kissed the other boy...etc, etc. My days went from spotting, teaching, and motivating to confiscating cell phones and writing rules up about makeup and appropriate workout gear. But even more worrisome was the shift in confidence. Suddenly, the very same girls who gloated the year before about how they could beat all the boys in their class at pushups and rope climbs in P.E. , were now telling me that they were embarrassed to have muscles! A couple of them even started slacking off during strength work because they claimed the boys thought they looked "fat" and "ugly". Wow.

It was discouraging and disappointing for me to watch these young girls fall prey to everything I DIDN'T stand for and had worked so hard to prevent in my gym. So I decided to look outside the box. I took a look at myself at that age and realized that of course, this change is nothing
new. Most of us go through this same dramatic shift in our preteen years, when the self-criticism creeps in and takes over. It's when the fearless, invincible child who can do ANYTHING, suddenly wakes up and NOTHING is same. Bodies are changing, hormones are fluctuating, and minds are racing and questioning everything about the world known before. Enter DOUBT.

One Saturday I decided to forgo normal practice at the gym and told the girls to meet me for a hike at one of our popular hiking spots in town. There was much moaning and groaning in the beginning...mostly about how early it was and how tired they were and how stupid they thought it was to have to wear running shoes with socks instead of flip flops. We got to the bottom of what some of the locals call "Hell's Hill" extremely difficult ascent that climbs nearly a quarter mile out of a small canyon. "Do we seriously have to hike up there?" they asked. "No." I said, "you have to RUN up there!" WHAT? Oh, but there was more. Once they got up to the top, I had something waiting for them. A challenge, of sorts.
I handed out little notebooks and pens to each of them. On the first page of their notebook, I explained that they had to write down something they've always wanted to do, but were either afraid to try it or didn't think they could do it. Then, they had to leave the notebook at the top of the hill and walk back down to the base. At the bottom, they had to decide how to get back up to their notebook...and they could get up that hill ANY way that they wanted, except walk. They could run, cartwheel, crawl, hop, whatever...they just had to get there and get to their notebook. Once they got to the top, they had to write down another goal or task, head back down the hill and do it all over again for a total of FIVE ascents. At first there was apprehension, defiant remarks, whining, and an overall negative reaction to this challenge. But then it got interesting. They started to take it seriously! They got quiet, took their time thinking about what they were writing, and then got creative in the way they got to the top of the hill. One girl ran BACKWARDS up the hill, another did cartwheels, another sprinted. Regardless...they DID it. And though they
were ridiculously tired in the end, they were PROUD and INSPIRED. We talked about what kinds of things they had written...things like "skydiving", "ask a boy to the school dance", "swim in the ocean", "become a famous singer"...and the reasons that they were afraid to try these things. We talked about why getting up that hill to reach those "goals" was important in showing how possible it really is. "Did you think, at first that you'd ever be able to cartwheel the entire way up that hill?" No. But you DID. What's to stop you from anything else?

While it's true that these kinds of activities are so obviously crucial in reaching out and communicating with this age group, I realize more and more that we can ALL benefit from taking a look at what holds us back as adults from going after things we want in our lives. Self-DOUBT is something we all battle and the fear that accompanies the doubt might be even more prevalent as we get older and so set in our daily routines. I'm the first to admit...even as the self-proclaimed "Gutsy Girl" and adrenaline junkie, that I get nervous about change from time to time. And there are a LOT of things I want to do, but might be a little (or a lot) fearful to try. But here's the thing...I don't know how much time I have left on this earth. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. And I don't want something unpreventable to happen that will leave me REGRETFUL of not going after what I want. So, like my tween gymnasts, I wrote down some of those things I'd like to do. And RIGHT NOW I have all the potential to do these things. Nothing is stopping me. Except ME. So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to whittle away at my list.

Where's YOUR list?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Perfection and Patience

Today I was reminded, once again, that I am NOT, in fact, perfect. Try as I might--I simply cannot achieve perfection. This is a very difficult lesson for me and one that I've continued to struggle with my entire life. My family is full of overachievers and though my parents never expected their children to be anything short of hard-working, hard-playing, happy people, I still managed to develop a somewhat ridiculously ambitious expectation that whatever I did in life, I'd better be GREAT at it. And not just great...PERFECT. Yep, I am the classic Type A, overly-competitive perfectionist. I do not go into any task without going at it 110%. And if that means I'm faced with some healthy competition or even a bit of adversity along the way...all the better!

I've had some great success with most of the sports I've tried. And a lot of that I attribute to my obsession with competition and perfection. I am an internally ANGRY athlete. Well... I'll admit I know this doesn't sound particularly positive, and perhaps a better description would be that I'm full of a lot of "fury" or "fire" when I'm training or competing. Regardless, it moves at a steady, rolling boil within me, pushing me to do better than the person next to me, or if I'm performance from last time. I don't usually APPEAR angry, because truthfully, I'm having a BLAST! I function best when I'm fueled by this competition, whether internal or not.

Now, while I realize my perseverance and motivation is a healthy, often appreciated trait, it's also important to admit that it has brought some very unhealthy, negative consequences. Lots of injuries. And let's face it...I've sometimes become self-critical, self-loathing, and eventually torn away at the very parts of me I'm proud of--my confidence and self-esteem.

Lately, in my quest to find more and more challenging adventures, I have come across some things that well...KICK MY ASS! Things that leave me questioning my abilities as an athlete, and humbling me on my ridiculous quest for perfection. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine tried to get me to go to a Crossfit workout. I had just completed a 50K trail race and was planning on entering my first 50 miler three months from then. My focus was completely on running...and ONLY running. My friend, also an ultrarunner, told me that she had recently started attending these Crossfit workouts to supplement her running. She claimed that it was going to boost her running fitness levels because it focused on strength and muscle endurance. Unfortunately, she told me that it involved lifting weights. Weights were an absolute NO for me. I was certain that lifting weights would never build true functional strength the way that using body weight (relative strength) could. So I continued with my own regimen of pullups, pushups, plyometric circuit training, confident that I was right and she (and all the other crossfitters out there) was wrong. Hmmmm....she failed to tell me that Crossfit has a foundation of gymnastics. That it balances a regimen of relative strength work AND not "lifting weights" but "WEIGHTLIFTING"...real olympic lifting that involves, I can't believe I'm saying this...TRUE FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH! Yes, I was admittedly wrong. Anyway, it took an injury to my achilles, that prevented me from running altogether, for me to finally agree to try Crossfit. And that's when I got my ass kicked. Over and Over and Over. But I LOVE it. And I love that it's hard for me. Here's a little video about what Crossfit entails.'s THAT crazy! (Now you know why I like it...)

What I don't love is that I'm not GREAT at it. YET. Oh yeah, I'm still going to go at it 110%. But meantime, I'm learning a LOT about patience. Today I set a goal on a specific lift and didn't reach it. I needed HELP on my last attempt and I don't think my trainer knows me well enough yet to know that it was completely unacceptable to me to fail at that today. She probably didn't see how furious I was or the fact that I was already thinking about how I'd need to spend hours on that particular lift to master it (by next week. Ha ha). No...what she DID do was say, "Hey, everyone has a hard day every now and then. Happens to all of us." Oh. There it was again...that PATIENT thing.

The thing is, I might NEVER be amazing at crossfit. But I WILL try. The key is to remember that it's a process and rather than let the moments of difficulty discourage me, instead, let them continue to MOTIVATE me to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting perfection, wanting to excel, and wanting to win. What's wrong is not allowing myself to fail at times. Patience is difficult. But when I have embraced it, I usually find the end result to be much more rewarding...and lasting.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Truth About STRONG...

I am not Skinny. Never have been. I'm STRONG. I am a female with muscles, thick thighs, and broad shoulders. I do not look like a man. I look like a woman who takes care of herself and prides herself on being healthy. I am proud of my body, my energy, my strength, and my confidence. I am closer to 40 than 30 and I'm in better health now than I have ever been and certain it will continue to get better! But truthfully, it has taken me a long time to believe this. For a few years, I was terribly misguided by a gymnastics coach (who shall remain nameless) who told me to go home and lose several pounds before returning to the gym. This, you can imagine, led to some horrible decisions that took me down a road of incredibly unhealthy behavior that took years to overcome and build myself back to a healthy state. Thankfully, somewhere along the line, I made the very wise decision to surround myself with STRONG people. I'm talking about super-strong, super-healthy, super-fit, super-confident, super-FUN people that defy the norm and the negative, unhealthy images and ways of life that mainstream media shoves in our faces every day. These are the people that motivated me, inspired me, and educated me in the value of taking care of myself. But it is certainly a long, tedious road to understanding this valuable lesson. In my over twenty years of coaching gymnastics and working with young girls, I have found that the negative body image talk starts earlier and earlier. Sadly, it's not uncommon to hear a six year old say she "feels fat". In my gym, we are ALL about building self-esteem, self-confidence, and positive body images. We talk about being strong, building fitness levels, and fueling our bodies with good food for optimal performance. We do not talk about losing weight, or changing our bodies into something unhealthy in order to impress judges or win competitions. And still, these girls can't escape. It's everywhere. And it's discouraging. Still...there are small triumphs. One day, I asked the girls to look at some pictures. Random pictures of female models, actresses, musicians, athletes, etc. Many of the photos were of well-known celebrities, but some were not. I asked them to identify the images of the females they most wanted to look like. I asked them to identify which females looked the healthiest. It surprised me that almost all of the girls (over 20 of them!) didn't want to look like Hannah Montana or Angelina Jolie or some of the models in the pictures. Instead, they were drawn to the images of the random female athletes, claiming these women and girls looked "beautiful" and "strong" and "healthy". So I took out another photo. It was their team photo. I told them to take a good look at themselves in the photo. What did they see? I told them to look back at the photos of those beautiful, strong, healthy girls and women they so much admired. What did they see? And it was then that the comparisons were made and the happy realization that these girls were just as beautiful, strong and healthy as the girls and women in the images! Aahhhh....PROGRESS!

And there's more and more progress out there! Finally, websites, Facebook pages, and even retail ads are ditching their typical unhealthy, anorexic models and replacing them with images of strong, muscular, healthy people! Check out the new Nike ads...this is very, very cool! For those of us over the age of 30, who grew up thinking women shouldn't build muscle the way that men do...that it took away from the feminine quality that we are "expected" to uphold...
the time has come to CHANGE that old crap! Again, I say, take a look around you. Make some educated, truly objective observations about the health of the people in your life...or yourself.

What looks healthy to you? What looks CONFIDENT to you? Are you disgusted by the images of women who look strong, and healthy and confident? Or do they inspire you? STRONG is the new skinny. Strong is the new sexy. Strong is a balance, a way of life, a way of feeling, a way of inspiring, a way of conquering old, negative talk and instead, obtaining an enormous amount of positive gifts you can't get from a skinny, unhealthy way of life. And the truth is.... good health, confidence, energy, power, assertiveness, self-esteem, happiness--these qualities lead to the ultimate STRONG gift. Quality of LIFE! Who doesn't want THAT?

AND...How about the MEN out there? What images are beautiful to YOU? How do you feel about STRONG women? How would YOU describe a STRONG woman?

Friday, September 3, 2010

No...this isn't the official first post. It's me, procrastinating!

As most of you know, I've been developing Gutsy Girls Adventures--a company that seeks to empower women and girls to take risks, develop confidence, and make healthy life choices through experiential, risk-taking activities. This company is still in it's crawling stage, but meantime, as the visionary behind the company, I've decided to declare myself the "Original Gutsy Girl" and start a blog about the crazy adventures (and misadventures) I'm experiencing. And those of you who know me well...know that I'm never short on looking for the next, new, exciting, and sometimes RIDICULOUS feat. But this isn't all about's about YOU too. And maybe a little inspiration to push the fear aside, take a risk, and challenge yourself to do something you never thought possible! I'm just the guinea pig.

First blog will be unveiled SOON!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Power of Playing (and "CAN")

My 5 year old nephew asked his 3 year old cousin if she wanted to know the three most important parts to staying healthy. "No." she responded. She's 3. But my nephew proceeded to tell her anyway. "First, you have to make sure you get enough sleep. Second, you have to eat healthy foods like vegetables. And third, you have to exercise, which is just another word for "playing"." My nephew, at 5 years old, is very, very wise.

I have been "playing" my entire life. I am fortunate to have been raised in a household where sports, exercise, and health were high priority. "Playing" meant running one-mile fun runs at age 5, hiking the Grand Canyon at age eleven, camping, rockclimbing (which involved NO ropes, by the way), body surfing, name it! Vacations, in my family, involved road trips to places where we could hike, climb, jump, swim, run, and test ourselves out in the wild. My father, the ultimate guide in survival, would lead us up cliffs, through narrow caves, down rushing white water, and back to camp without a scratch or broken bone on us. Yes, my parents are the kind of people who work hard, play hard, and enjoy life's adventures!

And me? I am one who gets bored very easily with a world that isn't challenging or CHANGING on a daily basis. It must have been why I was drawn to gymnastics at such a young age--a sport that involves everything BUT the mundane. And so I flipped, jumped, turned upside-down, walked on my hands, swung on bars, tumbled on a 4 inch beam, and catapulted myself off equipment twice my size. The ultimate form of has become my career as well. Twenty years later, I am coaching the sport and running a gym. And my "play " has since included a large array of colorful athletic endeavors...rowing, triathlon, trail running, surfing, fastpacking and ultrarunning.

I consider myself very , VERY fortunate to have a life that involves, well...ALL play. While so many adults my age are working jobs at desks that involve hours upon hours of communicating with a computer screen or phone, barely able to squeeze in an hour to head to the gym and jump on a treadmill and then head home with some takeout or fast food and sit in front of a TV to zone out a little more before catching a few minutes of sleep and starting all over again the next day, I get to play ALL day. I get to train and take care of my body with lots of different types of exercise and good, nutritious food, I get to sleep a full 8 hours every night, and I get to go to my gym and teach kids how to play hard too. Yes, I am very lucky.

But here's the thing...I have met a lot of people along the way who have diligently created, for themselves, a piece of what I have been given. Whether big or small, this piece, they know, is the secret to youth, and health, and happiness. These are the people who work HARD to balance their lives between work, family, responsibilities, AND their play time, their health, their fitness. These are the people I truly admire. The people who can BALANCE. These people are some of the happiest people on earth and I like to surround myself with these amazing people, because I learn a lot. And what I've learned most? The world "CAN" is their favorite word. It's mine too. But I'm a little different because "CAN" was a word I've always known and believed. Most people don't know about "CAN". They can't imagine even fitting "CAN" into their busy lives. Or, they're afraid of "CAN". And the truth is, "I CAN'T" is so much easier. Especially when you're too busy, or too tired, or too fearful.

So, with my first, official blog post, I want to get on my soapbox and challenge you to take a look around at the people you know. The people you love, the people you work with, the people you see out there and wonder "what makes them so happy?" Ask them. I'll bet those are the "CAN" people who have found the secret of BALANCE. And then ask yourself, can you carve out a little piece of that?